Roundtable: Forging New Paths for Our Future
By: Molly Rogowski
Denise Brennan, Professor of Anthropology, Georgetown University
Kathleen Kim, Professor of Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Kate Mogulescu, Supervising Attorney, Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project, Legal Aid Society
Ivy O. Suriyopas, Director of Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Juhu Thukral, Director of Law and Advocacy, The Opportunity Agenda
Melynda Barnhart, Professor of Law, New York Law School
This panel discussed the next steps that need to be taken in order to continue the fight against human trafficking. The panelists started their discussion by giving a recap of the day’s events and reviewing some of the topics that came up over and over again throughout the symposium. The first panelist, Denise Brennan, challenged the group by asking everyone to think about the small shifts that can be taken both in practice and perception of what human trafficking is that can bring about change. According to Ms. Brennan, in order to really make a difference, discussions and actions combating human trafficking need to take into account victims who are sometimes left out of the anti-trafficking movement, for example, migrant workers. She spoke about how the movement to gain protections and rights for migrant workers needs to put those who are struggling every day at the very core of that movement. Ms. Brennan stressed the importance of day-to-day organizing and prevention and how we need to push for anti-retaliation protections so that workers can organize and advocate for their rights.
The next speaker was Kathleen Kim, who spoke about the importance of creating a single, non-bifurcated definition of trafficking, one that would include both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. With a narrow view of what trafficking is (slavery, women and children), there are large numbers of victims who go unnoticed and are unable to receive the support and protections they need. One example of this is different punishments for different traffickers. Sex traffickers receive much harsher punishments than labor traffickers.
One obstacle discussed by the panelists was that trafficking is attacked primarily through the criminal justice system when there are many other underlying, systemic issues that need to be addressed in order to combat human trafficking. Ms. Mogulescu expressed that trafficking is more than a criminal issue; it is also an anti-poverty issue. Many victims are forced into trafficking because they are living in poverty. In order to combat both human trafficking and poverty, lawmakers, advocates, and society need to look to all the underlying issues when fighting human trafficking. Ms. Mogulescu stressed the importance of criminal justice reform so that victims will stop being criminalized and will be able to receive the services and protections they need. One suggestion Ms. Mogulescu gave was to make a connection to advocacy that is happening in other areas of criminal justice reform. One area that many people throughout the day referenced was the domestic violence advocacy movement. This is an example of how there are many different entry points for victims into the justice system. Ms. Mogulescu expressed how important it is to address the human rights issues when looking to any type of reform that goes toward assisting victims of human trafficking.
Ivy Suriyopas spoke about systemic problems that get ignored. She stressed the importance of recognizing immigrants and workers for their humanity. In order to do this the tension between “deserving” and “underserving” migrants that exists in this country needs to be eliminated. We need to overcome the pitting against one another of different victims. Ms. Suriyopas charged the group with several questions to keep the movement going forward: Why are we talking about the negative instead of the positive we want to see? Why not focus on what the ideal working conditions should be? What are the basic rights and protections we can promote? Ms. Suriyopas concluded by reiterating a point that had been made several times throughout the day: when we talk about trafficking we need to be talking about all forms of human trafficking. This was a constant theme throughout the event, and everyone agreed that addressing this issue could make a difference.
For video of this panel, please click here.